Texan, Canon, Teacher, Theologian, Bricklayer, Mentor, and Friend. You have said that you sought to live a life that would make no sense if God did not exist. We honor you today because we believe that God has, in fact, made your life intelligible.
A native Texan and the son of a bricklayer, you journeyed from Southwestern University in Georgetown to Yale University, going on to teach at Augustana College, the University of Notre Dame, and Duke University. You have often summed up your experience in the academy by saying, “This is a long way from Pleasant Grove.” The particular gift of your life and work has been made possible by your willingness to hold on to Pleasant Grove even as you walked the halls of great universities. You have argued that “being a Texan” and “being a Christian” share the characteristic of embracing stories we did not choose, and you have gone so far as to claim that there is a “Texan epistemology,” something we in Texas never knew we needed but for which we are now very grateful.
Your list of publications and honors is prodigious — you have authored or edited more than 40 books and hundreds of essays, articles, and sermons. You have delivered major lectures at universities throughout the world, most notably the prestigious Gifford Lectures at St. Andrews in Edinburgh, Scotland, where you brazenly made Karl Barth the hero of a lecture series devoted to natural theology. Time Magazine named you “America’s Best Theologian” in 2001, to which you responded, characteristically, that “best” is not a theological category. In 2011 you were named Canon Theologian of Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville.
You have redefined the field of Christian theological ethics, not least by repeatedly arguing that theological ethics needs to be theological. You have helped us think of the moral life as an apprenticeship into a distinct set of practices, dispositions, and linguistic habits. You have demonstrated the importance of church, liturgy, and sacrament for ethics, helping Episcopalians to see anew that our primary ethical resource is our Book of Common Prayer. You have displayed with your own life the significance of friendship for moral formation. You are known for being generous with your time, and you have perhaps single-handedly staved off the demise of the U.S. Postal Service with your enthusiastic commitment to the lost art of letter writing.
Supported by your wife, Paula, you have gifted both the university and the church in countless ways, influencing a generation of scholars and churchgoers. In recognition of your faithful service, we are pleased to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa.
May 8, 2012 Austin, Texas